Read any Good Books Lately? (#13) – The African Trilogy

I vaguely remember a quote from author Peter Rimmer that was something along the lines of “you don’t have to be born in Africa to be an African” and he may be the living proof of that. Born in London he was, technically, an Englishman. He grew up in the south of the city and went to Cranleigh School. After the Second World War at age of  18 he joined the Royal Air Force, reaching the rank of Pilot Officer before he was 19. Then at the end of his National Service and with the optimism of youth, he sailed for Africa with his older brother to grow tobacco in what was then Rhodesia, and the odyssey of his life and his love affair with Africa began.

The years went by and Peter found himself in Johannesburg founding an insurance brokering company. Over 2% of the companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange were clients of Rimmer Associates. He opened companies in the United States of America, Australia and Hong Kong and traveled extensively between the branches.

His passion had always been writing books, which he started at a very early age, though running a business was a driving force too and a common thread throughout his books. By the 1990’s, he had written several novels about Africa and England, and his breakthrough came with Cry of the Fish Eagle published by HarperCollins, Zimbabwe. It was a bestseller, which was followed up with the release of Vultures in the Wind. However, during this time, Zimbabwe was going through its struggles and the books did not get their just international recognition.

Having lived a reclusive life on his beloved smallholding in Knysna, South Africa, for over 25 years, Peter passed away in July 2018. He has left an enormous legacy of unpublished work for his family to release over the coming years, and not only them but also his readers from around the world will sorely miss him. Peter Rimmer was 81 years old.

That thumbnail biography pretty well encapsulates the story lines of the novels he published as THE AFRICAN TRIOLOGY.

The publicity info about the three novel is as follows:

Book 1: Cry of the Fish Eagle
Rupert’s family is happy and at peace. But a vulnerable future is ahead. Chaos is coming. The Rhodesian War is looming…  Rupert escapes to Rhodesia from the bloody conflict that is terrorizing Europe. His mission is not just duty-driven but a promise to look for an orphaned, young girl. It’s a futile search and with time running out he has no choice but to re-join the theater of war. When peace returns Rupert travels back to Rhodesia to begin anew, to find the orphaned girl and to start a new life. But nothing can prepare him for what is next as we helplessly watch Rupert wade against a chaotic tide of nationalism.

Book 2: Vultures in the Wind
Luke was close to death. He had been beaten mercilessly and was unrecognizable. They wanted the names of his ANC accomplices. Matthew Gray and Luke Mbeki were born on the same day, spending a brief childhood on an African beach, blissfully ignorant of the outside world. But their youth is severed. Released into the real world, the two now face their future in a country deep in the throes of violent change. Can the rules and discipline of discrimination pull the men apart? Is there any mercy? And what happens when these two eventually cross paths?

Book 3: Just the Memory of Love
Will he ever find his love again or will she always just be a memory?  The war is finally over and for the young and naïve Will Langton, his future is full of exciting adventure and happy dreams. Captivated by a brief, but innocent love affair on the rocks of Dancing Ledge, the romance is shattered in one single moment and she is lost to him. For Will, it’s an unbearable pain that he cannot hope to escape from and the only means to assuage his sorrow is to run away… to Africa.

These are stories about post World War II South Africa and Rhodesia and the rise of Black Nationalism in that part of the world. All three books are a great read about the lives of interesting individuals set in a very chaotic period of history. The author’s political points of view, and there are a number, are very evident but do not mar the story. It is evident that he thought that the colonial period was not all together bad. On the other hand he thought that Black Nationalism has been a disaster. He obviously dislikes Apartheid and the inherent evils of its institutionalized racism and yet he paints the anti-apartheid movement in less than a favorable light. He has no love for the socialism of post war Britain and holds the benefits of  capitalism in fairly high regard. In doing so he is not blind to some glaring faults in the system.

I had a Rhodesian friend, Paul Dickenson, who died a few years back. On reading this trilogy I wish Paul was still around so I pick his brains about growing up in Rhodesia. At that time Rhodesia was the bread basket of Southern Africa and from a colonial point of view a paradise. Now, of course, it is a basket case. “One Man, One Vote” rules the day but one must ask at what cost.

If a reader is a fan of Wilbur Smith’s African stories then his trilogy, available on Kindle for under $10 will have great appeal.

I am also looking forward to reading The Brigandshaw Chronicles (Books 1-3) by the same author. These novels are set in South Africa during the Boer War period. They are also available on Kindle for under $10.

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Read any Good Books Lately? (#12) – The Korean War: A History

We all live through historical events. Some we don’t recall and others are only vague memories. Even the ones dimly remembered can continue to have significant impacts on our daily lives. Case in point – The Korean War of 1950-1953. Almost before my time of course. I was barely a teenager with other things on my mind at the time. The recent political theater with Donald Trump and Kim Jong has prompted my interest. What was the Korean War really about? I came across this publication on Kindle and I think it is well worth the read.

The Korean War: A History  by Bruce Cummings –

From the Amazon Web site : A BRACING ACCOUNT OF A WAR THAT IS EITHER MISUNDERSTOOD, FORGOTTEN, OR WILLFULLY IGNORED.

“For Americans, it was a discrete conflict lasting from 1950 to 1953. But for the Asian world the Korean War was a generations-long struggle that still haunts contemporary events. With access to new evidence and secret materials from both here and abroad, including an archive of captured North Korean documents, Bruce Cumings reveals the war as it was actually fought. He describes its origin as a civil war, preordained long before the first shots were fired in June 1950 by lingering fury over Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Cumings then shares the neglected history of America’s post–World War II occupation of Korea, reveals untold stories of bloody insurgencies and rebellions, and tells of the United States officially entering the action on the side of the South, exposing as never before the appalling massacres and atrocities committed on all sides.

Elegantly written and blisteringly honest, The Korean War is, like the war it illuminates, brief, devastating, and essential.”

This book is not about the battles and the gory aspects of the battle field. This book is about the political back ground of the lead up to the war, a pencil sketch of the war,  and some of ramifications of the outcome of the war. I am not a war buff so that aspect did not particularly interest me. I was more interested in the larger picture and the larger issues. At the time, and even now, the perceived wisdom of the conflict was a simple case of Northern Communist aggression against a democratic Southern Korea that was friendly to the west. Now, in hindsight, it is easy to see that was not the case. In truth it was a civil war with the protagonists representing anti-Japanese and pro-Japanese points of view. The anti-Japanese Koreans had spent years battling the Japanese colonization of Korea and Manchuria. They had fought along side their Chinese compatriots in Manchuria and at the end of  WWII there was an expectation that the allies would dismantle the Japanese (French, British, Dutch etc) colonies and foster national aspirations of those “former” colonies. Of course that never happened. The French were reinstalled in Vietnam, the British in Malaysia, the Dutch in the east Indies, etc). Despite the war crimes tribunials and the establishment of Japanese  guilt for the war, shortly after the completion of hostilities the Americans realized that they needed to re-establish Japanese industry and economic interests to stabilize the area and prevent Communist expansion into the Asian political vacuum. Virtually, that meant re-establishing Japanese interests in Korea.  The result was civil war between those Koreans who were anti-Japanese and those Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese before and during WWII. Like most civil wars it was a brutal conflict with many large scale atrocities  perpetrated by both sides. The war was fought to a stand still and technically a state of war still exists between a Northern communist regime and a somewhat more liberal South Korea. The American had hoped that a popular democratic government in South Korea would eventuate. That did not really happen. As we speak there is a perception that South Korea is a democratic entity much like those of the west but in reality the country has existed with a rotating door of coups and corrupt governments. Unfortunately the North has not fared much better. There has been a stable regime in place since the end of the conflict but the general population has suffered under a brutal dictatorship with a siege mentality. It is that siege mentality that governs the north’s position in any dealings with outside interest. It is the very reason that North Korea will never give up their understandable pursuit of nuclear options. Trump came away from the recent discussions with an assumption that the North will denuclearize. But that will never happen. Why would they give away a trump card when history has shown them what happens to regimes that buckle to American pressure.

Some where, some one, has stated that that the actions of a crazy person are those of some one that keeps on doing the same thing over and over and over again with the expectations of a different outcome. With that in mind haven’t the American been doing that for years and years. They didn’t succeed in Korea or Vietnam. In broad strokes the Vietnam situation a was repeat of the Korean experience. A communist north, a corrupt southern regime, a nationalist determination to achieve independence, a divided country and a civil war with the Americans entering the war on the wrong side of history. The outcome is some what similar. The war did end but the Americans lost that war. In the long run the final outcome is somewhat better with a united Vietnam without war and some semblance of peace and prosperity. With Korea and Vietnam behind them once again the American ended up in a divided Iraq with warring factions in the semblance of a civil war. They may have won  the battles but I suggest they lost the war. Similarly in Afghanistan where I also suggest they have won the battles but have lost the war. I think they have been involved in the region for over ten years and there is still no end in sight.

The book is not exactly holiday reading but it requires very little effort and the possible understanding obtained is worth the effort.

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Cecil Taylor, Pianist Who Defied Jazz Orthodoxy, Is Dead at 89

 

At a concert during the the last European tour of the Miles Davis / John Coltrane Quintet in 1960 a lady in one audience stood up during a John Coltrane solo and pleaded “please make him stop”. I am sure that would be the reaction of most audiences to the music of Cecil Taylor. Even in Jazz circles Cecil Percival Taylor (March 25, 1929 – April 5, 2018) is not exactly a household name. He was a classically trained American pianist and poet and is generally acknowledged as one of the pioneers of the Free Jazz movement. His music is characterized by an extremely energetic, physical approach, resulting in complex improvised sounds that frequently involve tone clusters and polyrhythms. His piano technique has been likened to percussion – referring to the number of keys on a standard piano as “eighty eight tuned drums”. He has also been described as like “Art Tatum with contemporary classical leaning”. The Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould has been reported as saying “Cecil Taylor is the future of piano music”. It is an interesting comment from a musician who is famous for his precise interpretations of the music of Bach. Taylor is from the opposite end of the musical spectrum. Gould’s interpretations are architectual musical masterpieces while Taylor’s musical musings are more like splashes of molten lava.

Taylor is outside the orderly progression of jazz piano styles of the past century. The normal historical flow of American piano music goes back to the almost classical formalism of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, and then onto the improvisational styles of James P. Johnson, Earl Hines, “Fats” Waller, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Nat ‘King” Cole and then the moderns – Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett etc. Taylor stands way outside that tradition. The only pianist that might claim some connection is the Thelonious Monk and he is better known and appreciated as a composer. Like Monk Taylor’s public appearances were performances in the true meaning of the word – music, poetry, dance. At the center of his art was the dazzling physicality and the percussiveness of his playing — his deep, serene, Ellingtonian chords and hummingbird attacks above middle C — which held true well into his 80s. Classically trained, he valued European music for what he called its qualities of “construction” — form, timbre, tone color — and incorporated them into his own aesthetic. “I am not afraid of European influences,” he told the critic Nat Hentoff. “The point is to use them, as Ellington did, as part of my life as an American Negro.”  In a long assessment of Mr. Taylor’s work — one of the first — from “Four Lives in the Bebop Business,” a collection of essays on jazz musicians published in 1966, the poet and critic A. B. Spellman wrote: “There is only one musician who has, by general agreement even among those who have disliked his music, been able to incorporate all that he wants to take from classical and modern Western composition into his own distinctly individual kind of blues without in the least compromising those blues, and that is Cecil Taylor, a kind of Bartok in reverse.” Because his fully formed work was not folkish or pop-oriented, did not swing consistently (often it did not swing at all) and never entered the consensual jazz repertoire, Mr. Taylor could be understood to occupy an isolated place. Even after he was rewarded and lionized  his music has not been easy to quantify. If improvisation means using intuition and risk in the present moment, there have been few musicians who took that challenge more seriously than Mr. Taylor. If one of his phrases seemed of paramount importance, another such phrase generally arrived right behind it. The range of expression in his keyboard touch encompassed caresses, rumbles and crashes.   –     (excepts from Wikipedia).

Taylor may not have had a big following but he was not without honors during his lifetime. Even after he was rewarded and lionized — he was given a Guggenheim fellowship in 1973, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award in 1990, a MacArthur fellowship in 1991 and the Kyoto Prize in 2014 — his music was not easy to quantify nor did it have a great following. There was no academy for what Cecil Taylor did, and partly for that reason he became one himself, teaching for stretches in the 1970s at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and at Antioch College in Ohio. (He was given an honorary doctorate by the New England Conservatory in 1977.) Not until the mid-1970s, Mr. Lyons told the writer John Litweiler, did The Cecil Taylor Unit have enough work so that member musicians could make a living from it — mostly in Europe. Although classically trained his comment on written music bears repeating  –  “When you think about musicians who are reading music,” he said in “All the Notes,” a 1993 documentary directed by Chris Felver, “my contention has always been: The energy that you’re using deciphering what the symbol is, is taking away from the maximum creative energy that you might have had if you understood that it’s but a symbol.” (excepts from Wikipedia). I agree with the comment but most of us mere mortals have to start somewhere and once the music is under your belt then perhaps the written symbols should be discarded.

In some ways he reminds me of Frank Zappa. Frank was a “rock” musician who was very distinctly outside the traditions of Rock and Roll. Just try and jam along with a Frank Zappa recording and I think you will get my meaning.

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FACE BOOK

This is an email I put out there………..

Why is everybody surprised by the data mining scandal on Face Book?

Isn’t the whole Face Book business model based on the mining and selling of their client’s data?
If people are so concerned about their own privacy why do they so willingly put it on the internet?
This is a response I received
The surprise is twofold: People mistakenly think of Facebook as an advertising platform. While they vaguely understand that Facebook collects information from them, the exact mechanics and details are fuzzy to them. In their mind, they may tell themselves “I don’t reveal that much through Facebook—I don’t post that much, I don’t fill out much of my profile, what’s the harm? And, frankly, if that helps them show me ads for things I actually want as opposed to crap I’m not interested in, all the better!
What they don’t realize is that Facebook tracks them everywhere they wander on the web via their web browser because Facebook’s tracking cookie is embedded on millions of web sites. That reach is extended to web and mobile apps that allow you to log into them using Facebook. Facebook literally tracks you across the web, mobile space, and if you have the mobile app on your phone, it’s also tracking where you are physically at times. And Facebook has a multitude of apps that people don’t even realize are owned by Facebook: Instagram, WhatsApp, and many others, which further extends its reach. Even if you’re not a Facebook user, they are creating a shadow profile of you as you travel the web to enable ad targeting. Finally, Facebook purchases data from other data aggregators (mortgage sales data, public record, and other) that they use to augment the data their own apps generate.
Facebook is not an advertising platform that tracks you to show better ads; it’s a surveillance platform that happens to make its money through advertising. Knowing users better than anyone else is its moat against competitors.
People are unwilling to admit how easily they can be manipulated.There is a chasm in people’s mind between the type of simplistic persuasion they are willing to admit that advertising is capable of effecting and the sophisticated priming and influence peddling that is possible via Facebook. Facebook’s in-depth demographic and psychological profiles on people around the world (2B+!) coupled with its capability to execute large-scale, programmatically-driven multi-variate testing enables advertisers to be highly selective in targeting specific audiences with particular psychographic profiles, and test the effectiveness of messages with previously impossible scale and precision. Cambridge Analytica was testing something like 150,000 versions of specific campaigns to find just the right combination of images and messages to trigger statistically significant response from its target audience.
The average person cannot comprehend things at that scale. They cannot internalize that while the influence on them of a particular ad might be small, its aggregate effect might be huge, or at least significant enough to trip over the boundary required to, say, win a voting district. They are incapable of crafting a mental model of how any particular technology can be used for nefarious purpose. They are bad at estimating risk.
And when they find out that people can do that, it kind of blows their mind—“Why—<clutches pearls>—who would want to do such a thing?”
If you’re interested in a good read on how people’s brains work in funny ways, check out “Thinking Fast and Slow”, or the more approachable Michael Lewis coverage of the same topic, “The Undoing Project”.
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I deleted my Facebook account several years ago and have not been interested in Twitter or any of the social media. It is not because of any privacy concerns but rather because I found the sites a huge reservoir of trivia and misinformation that is just a waster of time. I don’t really need to know the minute details of everybody’s life.  So what if you had a muffin for lunch and now have a need to go to the bathroom. Who cares?
Although the today’s outcome is slightly different. Never-the-less, the era of GEORGE ORWELL’S 1984 and BIG BROTHER has finally arrived. And what’s more to the point,  it’s worse because people willingly participate, and even buy the hardware (computer, mobile device) and connectivity to enable the massive surveillance,  monitoring and manipulation that is now possible.
DO YOURSELF AND EVERYONE ELSE A FAVOR – DELETE YOUR FACEBOOK ACCOUNT .
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Read any Good Books Lately? (#11) – BLACK ICE by Colin Dunne

This book is described as “A Classic Cold War Thriller” and I guess that’s what it is but it is a little different. There are no CIA / MI6 / FBI / Security Agency conspiracies and while the Russians figure in the plot it is not about the KBG or the “Evil Empire”. It is not set in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Korea or any of the usual political pressure spots that figure in most Spy/Thriller novels and its not all gloom and doom either. If anything there is a very significant thread of humor thought out the story. In fact I would suggest that is one of the strengths of the book. Another would be the story’s location. It is set in Iceland. Now, how many novels have this cold but exotic location for a story? So, it has humor, a good use of language, a good plot, a great location and when you add in an interesting cast of characters you have a worth while read. There is an Icelandic beauty queen who causes some hormonal disturbances in a number of male characters. There is a tabloid journalist who ends up as an amateur spy. A significant number of American, British and Icelandic personalities, and a Russian gay spy who would “simply die” if he was ever sent back to Moscow. Iceland seems to be a interesting place where American and Russian interests collide. Despite the novel’s press release, there is no real scenario where the prospect of war is a possibility. The novel is more about Icelandic political independence, the presence of the American military base on the island and the low level off shore soviet naval presence and how these factors impinge on the characters in the novel.

Here is the publisher blurb in Amazon:

“If you’ve never come to in the middle of the night to find yourself approximately halfway between New York and Moscow, right up on top of the world, standing outside a block of flats wearing nothing other than a ladies’ silk dressing-robe – and that decorated with large scarlet kisses – allow me to describe the sensation. Confused. That’s the word, I think. Confused, and cold around the knees’. Stranded in Iceland, journalist turned spy Sam Craven wakes up to the greatest adventure of his career.

Sent to Reykjavik to track down the model Solrun, in whom British intelligence have taken a sudden interest, Craven finds himself caught up in a vast power-play between two superpowers on the brink of war – and with only his wits to rely on. Trying to stay alive, and one step ahead of a band of ruthless killers, Sam is skating on black ice. One slip and he’s dead.

‘Black Ice’ is a classic Cold War thriller, certain to appeal to fans of Jack Higgins, Len Deighton and Ian Fleming. ”

Yes, this a novel well worth the time of day and some lost sleep.

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Read any Good Books Lately (#10) – Author Kristin Hannah

For those unfamiliar with this author, Kristin Hannah (born September 25, 1960) is an award-winning and bestselling American Writer, who has won numerous awards, including the Golden Heart, the Maggie, and the 1996 National Reader’s Choice award. Hannah was born in California. She graduated from law school in Washington and practiced law in Seattle before becoming a full-time writer. She lives on Bainbridge Island Washington] with her husband and their son. She is a prolific writer with over twenty novels to her credit and they include the following ….. Wikipedia

  • A Handful of Heaven (July 1991)
  • The Enchantment (June 1992)
  • Once in Every Life (December 1992)
  • If You Believe (December 1993)
  • When Lightnings Strikes (October 1994)
  • Waiting for the Moon (September 1995)
  • Home Again (October 1996)
  • On Mystic Lake (February 1999)
  • Angel Falls (April 2000)
  • Summer Island (March 2001)
  • Distant Shores (July 2002)
  • Between Sisters (April 2003)
  • The Things We Do for Love (June 2004)
  • Comfort and Joy (October 2005)
  • Magic Hour (February 2006)
  • Firefly Lane (2008)
  • True Colors (2009)
  • Winter Garden (2010)
  • Night Road (March 2011)
  • Home Front (2012)
  • Fly Away (2013)
  • The Nightingale (2015)

I read The Nightingale  about a year ago. The novel is set in France during the resistance and I found it to be a real page turner. I recommended it to number of my friends and all agreed with my opinion. So, it was only natural that I should add her other novels to my reading list. I have been a little reluctant to plunge right in as her novels tend to be emotional roller coasters that become so engaging that the normal activities of day to day living get pushed into the background. Things like sleeping just gets in the way of finding out what happens next. But I did take the plunge into her 2006 novel Magic Hour and as expected I didn’t get much sleep. From “go to woe” I finished the novel in 24 hours. This is what Amazon has to say about the novel –

“In the rugged Pacific Northwest lies the Olympic National Forest—nearly a million acres of impenetrable darkness and impossible beauty. From deep within this old growth forest, a six-year-old girl appears. Speechless and alone, she offers no clue as to her identity, no hint of her past. Having retreated to her western Washington hometown after a scandal left her career in ruins, child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates is determined to free the extraordinary little girl she calls Alice from a prison of unimaginable fear and isolation. To reach her, Julia must discover the truth about Alice’s past—although doing so requires help from Julia’s estranged sister, a local police officer. The shocking facts of Alice’s life test the limits of Julia’s faith and strength, even as she struggles to make a home for Alice—and for herself. In Magic Hour, Kristin Hannah creates one of her most beloved characters, and delivers an incandescent story about the resilience of the human spirit, the triumph of hope, and the meaning of home.”

I am not a literary critic and I neither have the back ground or the inclination to critique or analyse books in depth. My criteria for literary fiction is fairly straight forward – Is the plot believable? are the characters compelling and well developed? Do I have an over riding compulsion not to put the book down? and do I lose sleep in the process of reading?  Based on these criteria Magic Hour is a 10 out of 10 winner.

Enjoy ……………………………………. I will need to get some sleep and acquire some breathing space before I take on another Kristin Hannah novel

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Vaccines

The implementation of sensible Public Health Policies has always been an uphill battle and the battle never seems to end. The American novelist Sinclair Lewis in his 1925 novel Arrowsmith explored the issues that faced a young idealistic physician in pursuing an ethical career in medicine. In that era American main stream physicians resented Public Health policies that, in their view, threatened to interfere with their ability to make a living. In the course of the novel Lewis describes many aspects of medical training, medical practice, scientific research, scientific fraud, medical ethics, public health, and of personal/professional conflicts that are still relevant today. Thankfully the discussion seems to have moved on and in this modern era the medical professions support evidence based scientific Public Health Policies. Yet despite the over whelming evidence in support of  mass immunization there are continuing efforts to undermine the logic, efficacy and efficiency of modern day programs.  In the past children were at risk from any number of infectious diseases. Modern immunization programs and Public Health policies and initiatives have largely made a significant number of those risks things of the past. Yet we seem to have forgotten that in our life time and in our parent’s life times Diphtheria, Whooping Cough, Tetanus, Smallpox and Polio and a whole host of infectious disease that were very real problems have now been brought  under control by public health initiatives. We are in awe of the spectacular achievements of modern medical and surgical technology and we seem to forget the less dramatic efforts of the quiet revolution in hygiene, sanitation and public health that are the real medical achievments of the past century.

 One of the casualties of the internet era is the devaluation of the “expert”. Even such august bodies as the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) seem to rate less credibility than the opinion of non-expert  celebrities. At the risk of calling upon the non-expert opinion of a celebrity I suggest that the viewing of the attached video by John Oliver is a worth while exercise in getting a balanced view of the battle over immunization. I also think it is an indictment of the current state of affairs that the programs of comedic social commentators like John Oliver , Stephen Colbert and John Stewart  are more likely to be factual than the “alternate facts” perpetuated by certain politicians.

PS. The Novel Arrowsmith has been compared with The Citadel published by British novelist A.J. Cronin in 1937. The Citadel also deals with the life experiences of a young idealistic doctor who tries to challenge and improve the existing system of medical practice.

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An Interesting Fact

“Consider Sweden, which offers the most reliable historic records. In 1800, life expectancy at birth was 33 years for women and 31 years for men; today it is 83.5 years and 79.5 years, respectively. In both cases, women live about 5% longer than men.”

Just goes to show – the more things change, the more they stay the same. On another level – at my current age (76 years) I have live 2.3 times longer than a Swedish male in the 1800s and I am still not finished yet.

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YouTube Pick (#14) – Nostalgia

Every body has memories that float to the surface from time to time. A lot of people have fond memories of their  high school and college years,  and a million other times that are filled with many pleasant memories. Nostagia has become a great marketing tool and the market place is rife with commercial attempts make money from the emotion. Just stop for a minute and think of the popularity of classic rock, the numerous tribute bands and fading rock stars on their last, and final, farewell tour. I am not immune to the emotion but my favorite nostalgic musical  memory has nothing to do with the pop music of my youth. Rather it concerns a particular memory from the time of my immigration to Canada. In 1971 the transport method of choice to get to Canada from Australia was by boat (or is it ship?). In those days air fares were too expensive. I traveled on the P&O ship The Oriana from Auckland (New Zealand) to Vancouver with stops in Suva (Fiji) and Hawaii (USA). The trip was laid back and leisurely and although it was a nice respite from the rigors of road travel in New Zealand to this day I cannot understand why anybody would willingly imprison themselves on a luxury cruise ship. We arrived in Suva Harbor in Fiji on Thursday May 20, 1971.The sights, sounds  and smells of Suva were like something out of the past, or perhaps straight out of the pages of  a Somerset Maugham short story. After a little wander around town I headed back to the ship for the most memorable part of the day at departure time in the late afternoon. I  had met a couple of Canadian Engineers who had been on the islands for a few months and to a man they all expressed the sentiment that they had to get out of there or as they said “they would never leave . This place is paradise”. Similarly, I have a friend, Gordon Rae, here in Cranbrook, who had spent time in Fiji, and any time Fiji came up in a conversation he would get misty eyed and mutter  – “every young man should have a Fiji in his life”. Obviously the engineers on the deck of the Oriana that afternoon felt the same way. When the Fijian Police Band on the wharf played “Isa Lei” –  the traditional farewell song – there were tears running down their faces. I thought they were going to jump off the ship. If you want to hear a South Pacific farewell song at its emotional peak then there is no better way than from the deck of a ship. To this day any time I hear Isa Lei I get really choked up.  Here is the song as played by the Fijian Police Band

You can check any one of many other versions on YouTube but for me the one above is the most evocative. I can still see those Canadian engineers standing on the deck of the Oriana in the late afternoon sun with the tears running down their faces as the tune wafted up from the wharf.

The high emotional content of the song is understandable. In the old days when some one left the islands it was unlikely that they would ever return. Without a doubt it is one of the most beautiful tunes on the planet – bar none.

Here is another less traditional version that was recorded by Ry Cooder. It is good but for me it doesn’t quite match the emotional content of the Fijian Police Band

Ed Gerhard’s version is also worth a listen.

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